The longer the PowerPoint presentation gets, the harder it is to manage its slides. Dividing the slides into different sections can make it easier to make sure you have the right slides in the right spot, as well as keeping like slides together. I’ll show you in this quick tip how to add sections to your PowerPoint presentation to help organize and manage your slides.
See more quick tips here: Quick Tips for Microsoft Office Applications.
Angela Duckworth’s work on grit has come up in my research more than a few times. Her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance was most recently mentioned in The Gift of Failure, and it was then that I realized that I couldn’t delay reading it any longer, despite having made a mistake.
Slightly less than a year ago, I was flipping through an email from BookBub.com with a list of books that were discounted. I saw the book Grit: How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up and bought it. I at some point noticed the author wasn’t Angela Duckworth and was confused until I realized that it wasn’t the book I thought it was.
Compared to Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Grit: How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up pales. Not that it doesn’t still have value, just that there’s a richness in Duckworth’s writing that just isn’t there in the other title.
If you’re looking for a single metric that measures the ability for someone to become successful in life, it might be grit – but, as the title of the book indicates, grit is an aggregate indicator. It encompasses both passion and perseverance. So, which comes first? Does passion come first or does perseverance? The answer is both – sort of.
Passion develops after people have been able to experience life and discover what it is that’s truly important to them. Passion is like a blazing bonfire. But it doesn’t start out that way. It’s cultivated from a small spark, then a fragile flame. Passion, which ultimately can provide great power to someone’s life, starts small.
What fans the flames of passion? Perseverance. It’s perseverance that nurtures the gentle flame until it becomes a solid fire. Paradoxically, perseverance is itself fragile. Like willpower, it’s an exhaustible resource that isn’t limitless (see Willpower). Perseverance can only last so long, but the warm fire of a burning passion can reenergize it and create more perseverance. So they lead to one another.
However, the relationship between perseverance and passion is even more complicated than this. While passion doesn’t develop until you’ve had a variety of experiences and the opportunity to find the ones which are the most important to you, it’s perseverance that allows you to discover your passion, as it keeps you exploring the world and seeking new experiences.
So perseverance is the genesis of grit, but perseverance without passion will eventually run out of steam. Perhaps it runs out of steam because it requires a degree of hope.
Duckworth explains that grit starts with interest. Our reticular activating system (RAS) flags an experience as interesting. (See Change or Die for more.) From there, a bit of enjoyment will cause us to come back and do more. I’d soften Duckworth’s statement a bit. I don’t think that the genesis must be a specific interest in an activity. I’ve seen people develop passions that were sparked initially by their zeal for life and not necessarily archery, serving at a soup kitchen, etc.. Their interest was substantially more diffuse than seems to be suggested.
After interest comes the capacity to practice. Ericsson explains in Peak that deliberate practice is essential for becoming the top of your field. It is, and Duckworth agrees, the constant drive to become better at one specific, measurable aspect of something, which allows people to become great at what they do. Duckworth is careful to say that deliberate practice isn’t any fun. It’s not the part that folks enjoy.
The third stage of grit is purpose. This is the belief that your work matters. Purpose may be small, like providing for my family – or large, like reducing pollution of the Earth; but fundamentally, purpose means that what you’re doing matters. That’s true even if it only seems to matter to you.
Duckworth describes hope as the last stage – but also a part of every stage. Hope as an end stage is the belief that you’ll rise to the occasion – that you’ll overcome. She’s also cautious to say that you need hope at every stage.
Hopefully Filled with Grit
The Psychology of Hope explains that hope is created from two components. The first is willpower – that is, the decision to make things happen (or not happen). The second is waypower – that is, the skills, talents, time, and treasures to make it happen. Because of the waypower component, the more skills you develop, the more hopeful you become. The more hopeful you become, the more likely you are to be gritty.
Even the most hopeful people in the world are faced with despair from time to time. There are times when hope fades and what you’re left with is only willpower and the unflinching desire to make it work – whatever it is. That’s the heart of grit. It means working when you don’t feel like it. It means working when you don’t know whether you’ll make it or not – but you’re convinced that you must try. It also means knowing what you can sustain.
Duckworth calls it “effort.” It figures in twice to her equation for grit. The first part is in the development of skill. She says that talent multiplied by effort equals skill. She goes on to say that skill multiplied by effort equals achievement. If you want to achieve something in life, effort counts exponentially more than talent. This is a conclusion that other researchers have reached as well. Carol Dweck’s work, discussed in Mindset, lays out how even just changing your perspective to one where work matters more than results can have profound impacts in your life.
In Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, Bob Pozen talks about the hard work that he put in – and still puts in. Despite the lack of a grand plan for his life, he’s done well. He has done well because he’s worked at it.
Will Smith said, “I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period.” It’s not a coincidence that he’s one of the most popular entertainers of all time. It’s that dedication to working hard that pays off over the long term.
Work isn’t about short bursts of limitless energy. It’s not the all-nighters that matter. It’s the things that you do consistently. It’s the things that you do day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. If you look deeply at the success of most people, you’ll find years and years of toil and turmoil. Though a work ethic can’t guarantee success, it can change the odds.
The awareness that it is the work ethic that matters isn’t enough to change our biased desires for talent. We like the idea that someone has it made, that they’re good because they’re good. This belief shields us from a need to work, to do deliberate practice, and to transform ourselves into something better.
We don’t want to see the hard work that goes into the process of greatness. We don’t want to see every swim at 4AM. We don’t want to see all the failed attempts. It takes away the mystery. If you see all the preparation to become great, it makes greatness achievable – and something that we’ve not done. If we see only the end, only the final piece – then we see magic. That’s what we want to see. We want to see the magic of what humans can really do. (See The Rise of Superman for more.)
Peak and Flow
As someone who has read Ericsson’s work in Peak and Csikszentmihalyi’s work in Flow and Finding Flow, I was intrigued by something that is seemingly a contradiction that Duckworth noticed. Ericsson speaks about deliberate practice being the thing that allows people to reach the peak of their professions. He describes it as uncomfortable, deliberate work that those committed to their craft endure to improve.
Csikszentmihalyi speaks of flow as this effortless, highly-productive state where it feels good. How can it be both intentional, repetitive, and time-taking – and thoughtless and free-flowing, where time seems to disappear.
The initial answer that Duckworth comes to – after seeing the two “debate” their differing perspectives – is that Ericsson speaks of what experts do. Csikszentmihalyi speaks of how they feel. However, that is not the complete answer.
The complete answer that she comes to is that peak performers do the hard work of deliberate practice so they can get into flow. Deliberate practice is for preparation and building skills. Flow is for performance – for the act of using those skills. They are not contradictory as they may seem on the surface. They’re actually complementary views of people who are driven to demonstrate what they can do for the world.
Work on Strengths or Work on Weaknesses
One of the areas where there is some disagreement when it comes to self-help psychology books is whether you should work on your strengths or whether you should work on your weaknesses. Sometimes you’ll hear that you should ignore your weaknesses and compensate for them by engaging other people, shifting work, or in other ways minimizing weaknesses’ impact. The reasoning goes that you’ll make more progress working on the things that you’re already good at. You’ll be able to stand out if you do one thing truly greatly. (For some examples, look at books like Strengths Finder, The ONE Thing, and The Innovator’s DNA.)
Conversely, some books speak of your Achilles’ heel. They talk about the things that are holding you back that you must break free from. These things, they argue, are the greatest leverage to improving your life. If you can just fix them, then you won’t be cleaning up so many messes.
So, the question is which one is right? They can’t both be right, can they? The answer may be both yes and no.
If you have the capacity to work on your limitations, you may make your greatest gains there. Moving from deficient to passable may be enough. (See Willpower when considering your capacity.) In truth, you can improve at any aspect of your world if you’re able to work on it. It’s just that it’s sometimes harder (requires more grit) to work on the things that we’re not good at. If we can really work on it rather than practicing cognitive dissonance (see The Largest Gap in the World – Between Saying and Doing for more), then we can make great gains. Conversely, if we can’t, then we should work on our strengths, because we can make those better with the need for less grit.
Often from the outside looking in, it appears that gritty people become singularly focused on everything they do and they force those things to happen. This obviously can’t be correct, because you can’t focus on everything – that’s a lack of focus. However, you can focus on what matters and become unwavering in your desire to get what really matters done.
We speak of goals, but all goals really aren’t created equal. Some goals are in support of other goals. In fact, some goals are means to an end. For instance, though people speak of a desire for training, people don’t intrinsically want training. Training is always a means to an end. For an employer, it might be greater productivity. For an employee, it might be a better job making more money or doing something that is more intrinsically rewarding. For a person, the reason for training may be learning. In every case, no one really wants training – that’s the means. Employers would be fine if employees were more productive and they didn’t have to pay to send people through training.
Sometimes we set goals to finish homework so that we get a good grade in the course… so that we get our degree… so we can get a good job… so we can get married to someone great… so that we can raise great kids. In these, we’re focused on the means to get to the end that we want. Gritty people don’t get focused on the means. They stay focused on the ends.
It may be that you can’t finish your homework. You might even fail a course. Gritty people decide whether they can take the course again and pass it – or find an alternative course that still allows them to meet their higher-level goals. If one of the lower-level goals that are simply a means to an end fail, they simply shift. They decide to look someplace else.
I look at our highest-level goals as our mission in life. This is the “why” from Start with Why. (How Will You Measure Your Life? may also be helpful in finding this mission.) Under our mission are a set of goals that I call “strategies” – we believe that if these high-level things happen, then our mission will be successful. Under these strategies are goals which I’ll call “tactics.” These tactics lead us to the strategies. For each tactic, there are a set of tasks that need to be done for the tactic to succeed.
Failing at a task, tactic, or strategy causes gritty people to evaluate whether they want to try a different approach – or whether they need to redouble their efforts in this task, tactic, or strategy. Failing at a mission causes gritty people to get up and dust themselves off. They follow the Japanese saying, “fall seven, rise eight.”
Maybe you’ve been knocked down again. Maybe you’re wondering how to be grittier. Or maybe you’re just wondering how gritty you are. Maybe it’s the time to dust yourself off and pick up Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
The solid-filled shape behind your text is a great way to make the text on your slide stand out. However, sometimes the shape itself stands out a little too much – maybe the circles look too soft, or the squared edges too hard. In this quick tip, I’ll show you a fast and easy way to change the shape behind your text, making it blend better with the background.
See more quick tips here: Quick Tips for Microsoft Office Applications.
In part 1 of this review, we talked about the mechanisms which allow good people to execute Moral Disengagement. In this part of the review, we’ll talk about the second half of the book, which discusses moral disengagement in a variety of topics. These are hot button issues in today’s society. Some of them are straightforward situations where moral disengagement is happening. In other cases, it could be that Bandura is using his platform to push his agenda.
More Than Just Entertainment
Bandura has had a persistent conflict with the media industry, particularly with television, because of his views that television violence leads to more violence in society. The Bobo doll experiment suggested that when children watched violence, they imitated it. Television is filled with gratuitous violence despite the awareness that situation comedies are the reigning champion of ratings.
Bandura starts a list of six foci on moral disengagement in practice with the impacts of television violence. He argues that television sanitizes immoral acts and repeated exposure desensitizes people. While there is research that children imitate what they see adults do, the research is less clear about the impact on adults. While Bandura makes a compelling point about needing to limit the amount of violence on TV, particularly for children, I’m hard-pressed to argue the point in either direction.
I watch almost no TV and very few movies. I’m simply not qualified to say whether TV is causing violence or isn’t. I can say, and Bandura confirms this, that the greatest incidence of violence comes in the form of cartoons. The Saturday morning favorites from my childhood had Wile E. Coyote getting blown up, thrown, flattened, etc., in seemingly every episode. Violence in TV has been a challenge for a long time, and in truth violence is going down in the US – even while there’s the perception that violence is going up and coverage of real violence has been more prevalent.
Grappling with Guns
The second industry that comes under Bandura’s focus is the gun industry and, in particular, the National Rifle Association (NRA). An organization that used to be focused on hunting and sportsmanship has lost its way as a lobbying group. The fight for gun rights has stopped being about hunting and sportsmanship and has become a fight for the right to protection.
Here, Bandura points out that interesting facts about gun ownership. There are more deaths due to gun suicide than by gun homicide. Most homicides are a result of heated disputes among family members, acquaintances, and relatives than criminal encounters. In short, you’re more likely to kill yourself or someone you know than the random criminal breaking in to your home. In an age of paranoia created by increasing news coverage of break-ins and harm wrought on home owners, it makes sense that more people are looking to protect themselves than ever before. The randomness of the crimes makes people feel it’s necessary to protect themselves.
Bandura makes some claims which I realize are not correct. He speaks of the need for police to escalate their level of armament based on the arms that criminals acquire. The police may have had to get access to armor-piercing rounds because criminals started wearing body armor but that isn’t responding to threat with threat. It’s responding to the greater defenses criminals started wearing. In reality, most police carry a 9MM weapon – or in some cases a 40 caliber weapon (which is larger). However, Bandura ignores the fact that the standard-issue military handgun in World War II was a 1911 – a .45 caliber weapon (bigger still than a .40 caliber).
He makes the point effectively that relatively few criminals get their guns illegally – but some do. He’s also quite right that we’re increasing our spending on housing criminals at a greater rate than on education. However, this ignores the impact of the “War on Drugs” on prison populations. (See Chasing the Scream for more.)
Conversely, the evidence that states with more lax gun laws have higher rates of gun violence is disturbing. However, a few minutes of deeper researching the topic reveals that there are many other factors that are also correlated with high gun death rates. None of the research or commentary I saw could convert the correlation to causation. As a result, it’s unclear whether more or less gun control leads to a safer – or less safe – environment. Bandura’s position is clearly articulated but not compelling to me.
Immoral Corporate Institutions
If you’re looking for moral disengagement, corporations are an easy place to start. There are so many scandals of organizations where the employees – and particularly the leadership – suspend their morals to worship at the altar of corporate profits. The financial markets meltdown that we had a few years ago was a result of the greed in the financial sector.
Subprime mortgages were being issued to people without the ability to pay. These were wrapped up and sold as financial derivatives – bundling of a bunch of different things. Ultimately, when people couldn’t pay for their houses, the mortgages went into default, the houses weren’t worth what was owed, and the system came apart at the seams. Warren Buffet called derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction.” Given the carnage when the system fell apart, I can see why.
The problem is most (but not all) of the people involved in the creation of the mess walked away without any losses. They didn’t see the inside of a jail cell. They took their big paychecks and even bigger bonuses and walked away. Even after the government had to step in, they were still taking bonuses, even though the organization would have died had it not been “too big to fail.” There were no consequences for the bad behaviors leading up to – or during – the debacle.
Underlings do, in some cases, get convicted of fraud. Executives walk off scot-free. They leverage plausible deniability. In many cases, they actively avoided knowing what was going on. (Not exactly Servant Leadership or the kind of leader from In Search of Excellence.) We’ve created what William Black called a “criminogenic environment.” He said this term in the 1980s when we were bailing out the savings and loans.
The financial sector isn’t the only place where corporate greed runs rampant. The tobacco industry is the only industry where the product kills half of its users. It was targeted towards teenagers – because if they make it through their teen years without smoking, it’s unlikely that they’ll start later in life. The industry worked hard to undermine solid science that tobacco was killing people. They dumped in pseudoscience and tried to forestall the truth getting out. (See Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for a perspective on pseudoscience.)
Moral Murder by the Name of Capital Punishment
Bandura shares his belief that capital punishment is wrong. Certainly, when looked at directly from a care/harm foundation (see The Righteous Mind), it’s pretty clear that killing is bad. However, I’m reminded of a story from Emotional Awareness, where the Dalai Lama relates a story of a bodhisattva on a boat with a mass murder who he cannot convince not to kill the rest of the passengers – so the bodhisattva kills him. The context of this is that a bodhisattva desires to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all living beings. The point is that the bodhisattva is – in the Lama’s estimation – operating under the principles of Buddha.
This for me establishes the moral bounds for which one could take another person’s life. Though it smacks of utilitarian moral disengagement, it remains true to the greatest good (care) and the least evil (harm). Despite Bandura’s admonishment that only 3% of shootings are in self-defense, I have no qualms about defending myself and my family from an intruder including, if necessary, taking the life of the intruder. (Note the linguistic cleaning by not saying “kill.”) So, it’s morally acceptable to defend oneself, and it’s potentially acceptable to prevent greater harm. Where’s the rub?
The rub is in the first step in the bodhisattva’s boat story. The first step was to attempt to convince the murderer to not murder. He attempted to change the mind of the murderer, to reeducate them in compassion for other human beings. The rub is we don’t know how to do that.
The more I learn about neurology, the more I realize that we’re literally of two minds. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow and Incognito for more.) Even if I could address the neurological issues, I realize that our understanding of psychology is primitive. We’re still fumbling around in the dark. House of Cards, The Cult of Personality Testing, Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, and even The Heart and Soul of Change all agree. We just don’t know what works. The best we can say is that if you like your therapist (perhaps because they’re using Motivational Interviewing), you’re likely to have greater success. Change or Die even covers the high rates of failure to change when a person’s own life depends upon it.
In short, we don’t have a reliable way of attempting to implore the death row inmate to change. This raises the question whether life in prison or a death sentence is the more compassionate thing. One could easily answer that a swift and painless death is more compassionate – except that it fails to account for the possibility of someone becoming remorseful. It also ignores the problem that there are innocent people on death row.
I’m not talking about the people who are guilty but are unable to accept that reality (when the ego and its defenses won’t allow it – see Change or Die). I’m speaking of the legitimately victimized people who went through the legal system and got a raw deal. How do you justify their death when they’ve done nothing wrong?
Bandura leans on Milgram’s work (which I discussed in my review of Influencer) to explain that the execution process is diffused among many people. Even the final injections are typically done by multiple people who have only a part of the deadly cocktail to minimize the moral self-sanctions that might prevent them from completing the execution. He correctly points out that if a single person (say a juror) had to be the one to “throw the switch,” they’d be much less willing to sentence a person to the death penalty.
In the context of Moral Disengagement, I believe that the system is designed to reduce the emotional burden on the workers who participate in the execution of convicted and sentenced criminals. They’re free to leverage the mechanisms of disengagement to make it easier to sleep at night.
My first real memory of terrorism wasn’t one of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombings, though certainly they were happening during my formative years. My first memory of terrorism was mixed in with my memories of my favorite airplane. It was the SR-71 Blackbird that took the pictures that proved that we had decimated terrorist training camps in Libya. (See The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird for more on the aircraft and 1986 United States bombing of Libya for more on that mission.)
Like most of the US, I thought that terrorism was something that happened “over there.” It wasn’t until the 9/11 attacks that terrorism felt real and close to home – though, admittedly, in Indiana I wasn’t close to any of the attacks. It was still close enough to be real. That’s the point of terrorism – to induce terror into people by creating fear that terror might strike them personally at any time.
Terrorist organizations need to recruit and train members who are willing to perform suicide actions in the name of their cause. They must be willing to accept the cause as greater than their own life for either secular or religious reasons. In the religious reasons, they’ve got to be able to cause recruits to look past the logical paradoxes that exist.
Most religions aren’t in favor of murder. Most are not supportive of torture or harming others. (Spiritual Evolution is a wonderful journey into why religions have standards that are useful to sustaining social life.) Somehow leaders must convince themselves and the recruits that those rules aren’t intended for times like these. They’re not intended for situations like theirs.
I suppose one condolence that can be offered for the suicide bombers is that they don’t have to live with themselves if they didn’t accomplish their mission. In that way, there wouldn’t be post-action self-doubt. However, with something so final, it’s important to be really sure that you’re right – which is why previous suicide bombers are revered as heroes whether or not they accomplished their mission. Not doing so would tear the fabric of the organization.
The idea that we’re creating problems for planet Earth isn’t new. My reading backlog includes Limits to Growth, which was originally published in 1972. There was much less data than was in Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, but the point is essentially the same. We can’t keep doing like we have been doing. It’s not sustainable. There’s too much population. There’s too much pollution. There’s just too much.
Donella Meadows and her colleagues were looking at the problem from a systems standpoint. (See Thinking in Systems for more.) We simply couldn’t expect that the environmental systems would accept the strain we’re placing on them. And it appears that they’re right.
From the perspective of Bandura, the question is less about the environmental sustainability problem and more about how people diffuse their moral responsibility. In this case, the indirect effects and the introduction of false “evidence” by those who have a vested interest in not addressing the environmental issues are powerful forces that lead too many people towards indecision and inaction.
On a personal level, I don’t drive a hybrid car. With the home office on the property here, I walk to work. I do have most (but not quite all) of the bulbs here in the house swapped over to LED. The furnace/heat pump combination units in both buildings are the most efficient I could buy. The windows in the office are as efficient as they come. Despite that, I’m quite clear that I’m consuming more energy than most folks. We look for ways to save, but the kids and the business require a lot of power.
I cautiously believe that there are issues to address with the environment and that we need to do them to maintain survivability on the planet – even when that’s a hard thought when we’re having colder winters than I can remember in 25 years of living in the Indianapolis area.
While I don’t agree with Bandura’s assertions in every argument, I appreciate the fact that Moral Disengagement is willing to address hard topics and walk through why some of the topics are hard in the first place. Though it’s a difficult read, it’s worth looking at our own morality and making sure that we don’t get stuck into Moral Disengagement.
Twelve years ago, when I wrote the first articles for “Cracking the Code: Breaking Down the Software Development Roles,” I made a conscious and perhaps controversial decision to not include the database administrator or a database architect as a part of the roles. The decision was made because there were few organizations who dealt with the scale of data that required this dedicated role in the software development process. The solution architect could take care of the organization’s need to design the data structure as a part of their overall role. However, the world of data has gotten bigger since then.
Filling a text box with a solid color is a convenient way of making the text on your slide stand out. It’s almost necessary in a presentation where you have a background with a lot of contrasting colors, but it has the trade off of covering up part of your image. In this quick tip, I’ll show you how to adjust the transparency on your text box fill so that your text is readable and stands out, but you can still see the background on your slide.
See more quick tips here: Quick Tips for Microsoft Office Applications.
If you want to talk about moral behavior, at some point Albert Bandura’s name is going to come up. He’s done a great deal of work trying to understand people. His research in 1961 showed that children imitate the aggressive behavior they see adults doing. However, when Moral Disengagement: How Good People Can Do Harm and Feel Good About Themselves became available, it wasn’t immediately on my reading list – it was on Terri’s. Some of her mentors are quite the fan of Bandura’s work, and she was intrigued.
We both started reading it when she picked it up. Unfortunately, while Bandura is a great scholar and has advanced the field of psychology and morality greatly, he’s hard to understand at times. While I wouldn’t say that he’s as hard to read as Robert Greenleaf in Servant Leadership, there were definitely places when I had to reread the text a few times to make sure I knew what he was trying to say. Some of it may have been poor writing – but I found that, more often than not, it was the nuanced understanding and complex schemata that he has for the topic. It took me some time to discern what he was trying to tell me. (See The Art of Explanation for more about the curse of knowledge and complex schema.)
Because it was a hard read, I didn’t read it as fast as some other books. In a way, I’m glad. It allowed me to read The Righteous Mind, which provided a framework for the foundations of morality. This allowed me to see how morality was defined and based before watching Bandura explain how morality was systemically torn down by dictators and armies, industries and entertainment, and our disconnected nature. (See Alone Together for more about how we’re more alone and more connected at the same time.)
My review is broken into two parts. This first part will deal with the mechanisms of moral disengagement, where the second part will deal with the hot topics that Bandura writes about to demonstrate the mechanisms in action.
Before getting to how morality is specifically formed, it’s important to realize that morality is relative. It’s relative to the culture that we live in. It’s relative to the times that we’re living in. While (hopefully) most of us would find owning a slave morally reprehensible, it was (unfortunately) an accepted practice a few hundred years ago. This is a striking example of how our morality changes over time.
Morality doesn’t, however, evolve with our genes. Morality evolves as we have greater margin in our lives. We can have greater compassion because we ourselves are not struggling. We can have higher standards, because we’re not struggling for the necessities of life.
Prior to the mid-1940s, women were expected to have a role only in the home – and not outside the home. As we entered World War II and we needed more labor capacity due to the large number of men sent off to fight in the war, women were allowed and even encouraged to enter the workforce. “Rosie the Riveter” was a propaganda character that drew women into defense industries. When the war was over, many women lost their jobs, but the taste of independence and respect lingered in their souls. By the 1950s and 1960s, women started entering the workforce again, but this time for good. Before the 1940s, it was not socially acceptable for women to be working in professional careers outside the home. Today, it’s expected.
In the US, divorce rates in the 1920s were about 1.5 per thousand people. In the early 1980s it peaked at about 5.25 per thousand people before settling back down to a new level at about 4 per thousand people. (See Divorce for more of this data.) The greater independence of women, changing divorce laws (like allowing for those due to irreconcilable differences), and greater prosperity made divorce more socially acceptable.
Genes don’t evolve substantially in a single generation, but our sense of morality did – and still does.
Founding Fathers and Slavery
If you were to make a list of people that you felt like had a firm moral foundation, the founding fathers of the United States are likely to make the list. After all, they created the great American nation. They declared that all men were created equal and that they were born with certain inalienable rights – well, except in reality. The Three-Fifths Compromise was worked out for how to represent black slaves as people.
In a strange twist, the Southerners wanted slaves counted for purposes of the House of Representatives representation: equally. This would have given them a larger number of seats in the House of Representatives. The Northerners wanted the slaves treated as property and thus not eligible for representation.
Patrick Henry, who is famous for saying, “Give me liberty, or give me death,” owned slaves. He admitted the contradiction in his values: “I will not – I cannot justify it, however culpable my conduct.” However, he’s not alone. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all owned slaves as well.
It seems that even our most heroic figures and pillars of morality would not fare well if their actions were evaluated with today’s standards.
Moral standards are formed personally but are influenced socially through both legal and social sanctions. We believe that things which are against the law are largely immortal. The law is a legal sanction that inhibits socially-undesirable behavior through its effect on self-sanctions. There are, however, some situations when lawlessness is seen as desirable and where legal sanctions lose their power, such as the situation described in Change or Die and the famous Delancey Street work.
Social sanctions were discussed in The Righteous Mind as “social conventions.” These are what society expects of its citizens but doesn’t legislate. Social sanctions have a less inhibitive effect than legal sanctions. Still, social conventions have a powerful effect on us. Few of us would stand with our backs to the door of an elevator voluntarily and without reason. We’re conditioned that the right way to face is towards the door which will open.
Legal and social sanctions are called “fear controls.” They function by fear of reprisal. Legal sanctions carry the threat of legal recourse, including imprisonment. Social sanctions carry the threat of being ostracized by the group – which historically meant death.
Moral control rooted in self-sanctions are called “guilt controls,” because they work on the avoidance of guilt that violating the standards will mean. Self-sanctions are the ultimate endpoint in moral disengagement. In the end, you need to be able to live with yourself in the morning.
Bandura makes the point that moral agency – that is, moral influence on behavior – can be either inhibitive or proactive. The inhibitive form manifests itself in the resistance from behaving inhumanely. The proactive form manifests itself in compassion. Compassion is that humanitarian ethic. It’s the care for other human beings. (See My Spiritual Journey for more on compassion.)
Disengagement Doesn’t Alter Morality
One of the key questions that everyone asks is “How can good people can do bad things?” This question is followed by “Don’t they believe it’s wrong?” The heart of these questions is whether the other person (or people) have the same set of moral beliefs that we have.
As we discovered in The Righteous Mind, it’s possible that they don’t have the same beliefs – or, more precisely, they don’t evaluate the moral foundations in the same way that we do. However, Bandura asserts that, in most cases of moral disengagement, they have the same moral beliefs that they started with.
They still believe, for instance, that killing another human is wrong. What they’ve done is they’ve changed the other person into a non-person. They’ve dehumanized them to the point where they don’t believe they’re really people any longer. This is just one of many ways that a person can at one moment believe that killing another human is wrong and to be able to kill a person. This is the same thing that we see in Change or Die. That is, our ego has a massive system of defenses that allow us to see ourselves as good – even in the face of the wrong we’ve done.
Self-efficacy, the belief that what you do matters, is critical to the development of morality. If your actions don’t matter because you’re not in control or because they will have no effect, there is no need for morality, which controls behaviors and thereby influences outcomes.
The Time Paradox speaks of those who are focused hedonistically in the present – seeing limited consequences for their choices today. Morality has a reduced impact on them due to their inability to connect how their actions change the outcomes. Mindset looks at it through the lens of whether you believe you are fixed or whether you can grow. If you are fixed (called “present fatalism” in the language of The Time Paradox), then you need not take responsibility for your moral indiscretions. The Psychology of Hope describes self-efficacy as the “waypower” component of hope. (The other component is willpower.) Self-efficacy is the ability to do something and be successful.
More importantly – and from a different direction – if you believe that you can succeed in the context of your moral values, there is no conflict. However, if you don’t believe you can succeed without disengaging your morality, you may very well just do that. Those who, in Reiss’ terms, are not strongly motivated by honor (see Who Am I? and The Normal Personality) will be relegated to expediency – and moral disengagement is expedient. Bandura describes people with a low honor desire as “people with weak commitment to personal standards.”
To proceed with your morals when you doubt that you’ll be successful – when the alternative is a quick and easy moral disengagement – takes grit. It takes a persistence to continue to try to make things work, even when it appears that they ultimately won’t. When you doubt that you’ll be successful without a bit of moral disengagement (notice the minimization in my language), you’re likely to eventually succumb to a bit of moral disengagement. (See Grit for more on persistence through grit.) After all, willpower is an exhaustible resource, and constantly having to press on in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds is exhausting. (See Willpower for more.)
Kurt Lewin famously said that behavior is a function of both person and environment. That is, how people behave is the outcome of the relationship and interaction between their personality and the environment. You can create environments that lead to more moral behavior and in the case of savings and loans, Enron, MCI, and others, you can generate environments that encourage immoral behaviors. While neither of the environments guarantees the behavior will align with the environment, they do tend to lead in one direction or another.
There are three types of environments that people find themselves in:
- Imposed – Environments where the person has little or no control
- Selected – Those environments that they’ve picked
- Created – The environments that they’ve created
This is interesting, because, in most cases, we’ve not been in an imposed environment after childhood. We’ve largely selected or created the environments that we’re in. Our jobs are selected, where we live is selected. Our rooms we’ve created. We controlled the furniture and the decorations. We’ve chosen our environments.
The fact that we’ve selected – or often created – our environments means that we have substantial influence in our behavior (but not absolute) and our behaviors are sometimes a result of longer-term decisions than we typically believe. The decisions we make about our environment influence our behaviors as well. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy where I speak about longitudinal situational decision-making.)
A friend of mine says that I have an uncanny ability to leave a situation before it started to get – in his terms – “wild.” I don’t know that I ever thought about it. I somehow, I have tended to unconsciously sense that an environment is going to turn into something bad and leave – before it actually got bad. Not that I’m not capable of bad behaviors, I just avoid situations that would lead me to them and try to exhibit emotional awareness to shape my behaviors. (See Emotional Awareness for more on emotional awareness.)
Loci of Disengagement
There are three basic loci – or foci – of disengagement:
- Agency – Displacement of responsibility to others, or diffusing it so widely that no one bears responsibility.
- Outcome – Minimization, disregard, distortion, or dispute of the injurious effects.
- Victim – Divestiture of a victim humanity, or belief that one is a victim and therefore justified in retaliation.
I believe that these loci are actually very difficult to understand – and, in the case of victim, two radically different mechanisms are grouped together. From my point of view, the agency locus is about responsibility. That is, agency deals with how individuals accept, reject, or defer responsibility for the morality of their actions.
I believe that the outcome locus is about negative effects. That is, it is about how the person sees the effects.
I believe that what Bandura describes as the “victim locus” really encompasses two concepts. First, there’s the compassion effect – that is, a lack of the compassion for others dehumanizes and devalues them to the point where you can do immoral things to them.
Second, there’s the vengeance effect – that is, I’m a victim because I’ve been harmed so I’m justified in harming others. Reiss speaks of vengeance as a basic desire. (Again, for more, see Who Am I? and The Normal Personality.) Vengeance should be clarified as different than “temporary insanity” or “amygdala hijack,” because it occurs over a much longer period of time. (See Emotional Intelligence for more about emotional or amygdala hijacking.)
Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement
Bandura highlights eight mechanisms which can disengage moral self-sanctions. They are:
- Moral Justification – Attaching honorable purposes. I.e., “The ends justify the means.”
- Palliative Comparison – Comparing their actions (or the proposed lack of action ) to the actions of others and the hypothesized negative results.
- Euphemistic Labeling – Cloaks harmful behavior in innocuous language and removes humanity.
- Minimizing Consequences – Minimization of the consequences of the action to minimize the violation of moral standards.
- Ignoring Consequences – Completely ignoring the consequences of the action to make the behavior morally acceptable.
- Misconstruing Consequences – Assigning the consequences to “externalities” rather than to one’s own behavior.
- Dehumanization – Removal of the humanity of the victim and introduction of animalistic tendencies.
- Attribution of Blame – Shifting of the blame to someone or something else.
- Displacement of Responsibility – Focus on execution of tasks rather than the implications of the actions. I.e., “I was just following orders.”
- Diffusion of Responsibility – Separating responsibility into so many parties as to make no one person wholly responsible.
Moral compromises lead to logical paradoxes. They seem to work on the surface, but if anyone would dig down deep into them, it would be impossible not to see that they can’t make sense together. Mastering Logical Fallacies provides a catalog of the kind of fallacies that others might attempt to use on us during a debate. Many of the arguments provided by terrorist organizations suffer from these situations. Radical religious groups use terrorism, which inflicts suffering and death on innocent people – yet their religion prohibits it. All causes – including those that use terrorism – must persuade people to join their cause or die out quickly.
Perhaps the best mechanism in use for avoiding the logical paradoxes is the use of projection. That is, the harm being inflicted by the terrorist is projected (or deflected) onto the perceived oppressor. The hostages would be home with their families if the oppressor had simply met our demands. It’s their fault that we’re having to hold the hostages so long – not ours.
This – and many other techniques – allow the logical paradoxes to persist despite their obvious falsehood. Somehow, there has to be a way to justify it – even if the justification is skewed.
Bad Means for Good Ends, and the Conflict They Create
“The ends justify the means” is an often-quoted saying. It’s a bit of linguistically-sanitary way of saying that we’re going to do bad – but for outcomes that are good. This is a utilitarian view of morality. So long as the end is good, whatever bad you do is acceptable. While this is convenient, it’s a house of cards that comes crashing down with great flair.
Consider the Vietnam War. All war is necessarily anti-moral at the most detailed level. The firmest foundation of morality is the care/harm foundation. War – in the traditional sense – means taking lives. This is typically justified because the cause is just. However, what happens when the cause isn’t just? What happens when an entire American culture decides that the war was wrong, it was unjustified, it wasn’t morally right? The veterans who faithfully served their country found out. They paid the price with greater emotional suffering as they returned from a war that the American people didn’t want or believe in. Veterans weren’t welcomed with open arms to fill jobs. Instead, they were shunned.
Deep in their own minds, they had post-traumatic stress disorder. They remembered the faces of the people they had killed – in greater numbers than those from prior wars. Their moral disengagement had been stripped, because the ends no longer seemed to justify the means.
The problem is that this disengagement is typically used in the absence of trying to get the ends without the negative means. Non-violent or more measured approaches are abandoned as being insufficient for change before they’ve been tried. (We’ve learned quite a bit about influencing change without resorting to violence or morally questionable behavior – Influencer is a good start to look for some of these tools.)
Second, the comparison tends to minimize the moral impact of the means and overestimate the moral benefits of the ends. We’re predictably irrational when it comes to justifying the beliefs that we want to cling to. (See Predictably Irrational for more.)
When most of us think about terrorists, we imagine the downtrodden teenager living in a middle eastern country whose family is barely scraping by. They set out to make the world more right by joining an organization that offers to change the world. Part of their mechanism for changing the world is through terrorism. The problem with this view of terrorism is that it’s wrong.
We think that terrorists are mentally unstable people who are willing to sacrifice their own life for no good reason. Their belief that their death is in service to a higher power eludes us. We can’t imagine how a sane person could believe this to be true, much less carry out an act of what we perceive to be senseless violence. However, terrorists are not, as a lot, lunatics who are constantly on the edge of breaking. Such instability wouldn’t be tolerated, since it would jeopardize the terrorist organization. This view, too, is wrong.
Terrorists typically come from middle- or upper-class families with a decent education and a desire to change the world to make it better. When coupled with a firm belief that you’ll be rewarded in heaven if you lay down your life for the cause of your God here on Earth, it becomes easier to see how terrorists are created.
Gears of War
These are the mechanisms of Moral Disengagement. These are the gears that allow wars to happen. In the second part of this review, we’ll walk through Bandura’s hot topics and see how we disengage our morals on those topics.
Human brains are amazing things. They’re power-hungry biological machines that consume 20 to 30 percent of the blood’s glucose while being only two to three percent of the overall mass of the body. As complex engines for our cognition, it’s no surprise that we need people who are specifically focused on the tuning of these powerful engines. Those specialists are learning designers, also called instructional designers. These brain mechanics have a set of tools in their internal toolbox that allows them to identify how to improve the brain’s performance in new and novel areas.
In developing training for people, we make several assumptions. Those assumptions are based on our own experience, the environment, or folklore surrounding training. Assumptions aren’t bad. They allow us to cope with a complex set of variables that impact learning. However, challenging these assumptions can help us to create training that is more effective and sustained.
The myth of feedback is a twisting tale. Early research seemed to indicate that feedback depressed learning, while common sense says that feedback is essential to learning. With the advent of more eLearning courses, careful designers are looking for ways to provide meaningful feedback to students and in the process stumbling on age-old controversies.
Research on Delayed Feedback
Learning researchers started investigating the impact of feedback and discovered something curious. Delaying feedback created better learning and long-term retention. One of the conclusions from this research was that feedback was bad for learning. However, it’s only when you look under the covers to the experimental design that you begin to see that what they were testing isn’t exactly the same thing that we’re looking at in our training courses.
The design of the test was such that the feedback was delayed – but it was delayed less than 10 seconds. Most of the time when we’re considering feedback, we’re not considering such short periods of time. We’re evaluating whether we should show a student their result after they have answered a question (hint: you shouldn’t) or after the test (hint: you should). In the computerized learning world, we’re talking about whether we provide effectively instant feedback or whether we delay that feedback.
We wouldn’t typically think of delaying feedback for only a few seconds – but we should use this as a clue.
Training or Productivity Aid
One reason that instant feedback may indeed depress learning is the perception that it’s going to be permanently available. If you can always ask your mother, or turn to your colleague or a resource, why would you learn it? If the resource is always available and easier than learning the material, then you shouldn’t learn the material. Learners are leveraging this phenomenon more and more frequently as the quip “just Google it” flows freely from our mouths on a wide variety of topics.
It may be that when we make getting the correct answer (even through random guessing) too easy, we reduce the ability of the learner to justify the mental expense of committing it to memory. Consider another change in learning over the last 20 years. Twenty years ago, we would be amazed by people who remembered phone numbers. Today, few people know the numbers of their closest friends, because they don’t have to. They select the name in their contacts on their phone and the number is automatically dialed – without you even having to know it for a moment.
As we’re designing training feedback, we need to be cognizant that we want to create a small barrier to getting the feedback so that learners don’t use the training program as a crutch and use that crutch instead of learning.
Learning or Performance
Before leaving the topic of learners using the training as a crutch for not learning something, it’s important to realize that this is a valid strategy when the training isn’t training instead is a performance aid. That is, the content produced is intentionally designed to be a sidekick to the learner when they’re performing the actual task. (See Job Aids and Performance Support for more.)
The fact that it is a valid strategy relies on the awareness that our goal isn’t learning. Though we’re all in the training business, that isn’t what the organization wants. The organization wants productivity and effectiveness. They expect that they can get productivity and effectiveness through training.
When we can bypass the learning process and make employees productive without it, we should do that even if it doesn’t officially match our titles.
When Feedback is Good
While we’ve explored when feedback can be bad, it’s most frequently good. In fact, the lack of feedback strongly inhibits learning. If you can’t see the results of your actions, then you have no way of improving. The psychological concept of flow requires tight feedback loops. (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman for more on flow.) Why does flow matter? Well, because it is a mental state which generally produces five times the results of other mental states. Generating flow states also improves mood well after the flow state has ended. Even the residual effects help lubricate organizations to better interaction.
High-performance athletes create scenarios where they receive expert and timely feedback so that they can improve their performance to its peak (see Peak). Deliberate practice drives improvement, and feedback drives deliberate practice. The more we can give meaningful feedback, the more we can create opportunities for learning and deeper learning.
Give feedback – every time. Give feedback with enough of a barrier that learners won’t use ease of access as an excuse not to learn – unless that’s your goal.